|The Wrestlemania Revenge Tour hits a packed out Qatar Sports Club Stadium [WWE]|
“I hear voices in my head …”
The theme music of WWE superstar Randy Orton is blaring through the speakers as he walks slowly to the wrestling ring on a sweaty, humid night in Doha. Thousands of wrestling fans are on their feet, some are standing on chairs and some are running around the stadium floor trying to get a better glimpse of their hero.
These fans at the open-air Qatar Sports Club Stadium are of all different ages and races.
Many boys and men are wearing their traditional dishdashas and many females are wearing abayas, and of course the brightly coloured wrestling t-shirts are also awash through the crowd.
Orton, who is nicknamed ‘the Viper’, is entering the ring to tackle his current nemesis CM Punk.
But Randy hasn’t always been liked. For many years the fans despised his cold-hearted attitude and ruthless aggression. The 31-year-old would have no problem punting his opponent in the skull so that they were unable to wrestle again for a very long time.
About 18 months ago the mood began to change and the fans started to cheer for him. But Randy’s character had not transformed. So why had these loyal supporters drastically changed their mind?
“What I think happened is I had earned their respect over time by working hard in the ring, being true to my character and not straying away from my character,” he told me.
“My character, the Viper, that whole gimmick, just kind of took a life of its own. They started to enjoy watching me do what I did.”
It also seems to help that Randy has won the WWE’s highest accolades – the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship – a combined total of seven times. As he says:
“People get with that. People like a guy that wins, they like a guy that does what he says he is going to do.”
And Randy does exactly that.
His opponent CM Punk is also a winner. Punk has won the World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions. While they have both enjoyed success, their characters are polar opposites.
Punk believes in the ‘Straight Edge’ lifestyle. That means he doesn’t drink alcohol, he doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t take drugs. Despite his ethical way of life, the fans don’t like him at all.
When I ask Randy what he thinks of the irony that the fans cheer for him and boo CM Punk, he tells me that the fans make up their own mind and don’t like to be told what to do.
“That is really who he [CM Punk] is. He’s never drank alcohol, smoked or done drugs,” said Randy.
“More power to him. I’m definitely not that guy. I’ve had times in my life where I have made the wrong choices. I have tobacco in my mouth right now as we speak. Last night I had a few beers poolside with the guys. But I know that doesn’t make me a bad guy, and I know if he was to drink it wouldn’t make him a bad guy.”
“But it’s the fact that he is ‘Straight Edge’ and that he goes around preaching like he does and the fact that he has his followers, and that he talks down to the fans. They don’t want that from their good guys so they are going to boo him.”
The atmosphere is electric as these two gladiators battle it out in the middle of the squared circle. It’s the first time the WWE has ever performed in Qatar and it’s their first show in the Middle East in 10 years.
Before his match I sat with Randy in the stands of the stadium facing the illuminating skyline of Doha’s diplomatic area. Having never been to the region, he didn’t really know what to expect. But the St Louis, Missouri native was definitely impressed.
“The architecture is amazing,” he tells me with his eyes wide open.
“You know I didn’t know what to expect. When I think of the Middle East I’m thinking desert, and of course there is plenty of that.
“… I am looking at these buildings, I have never seen anything like that. There is nowhere else I have been that has buildings like this. Last year we were in Shanghai. That was a huge beautiful city with lots of amazing buildings. But even Shanghai didn’t have the kind of stuff that I am seeing here. It’s just amazing. You know I guess this has all come up in the last five years which is quite impressive.”
As Randy’s match continues, I can tell that the WWE production staff are not pleased with some of the disorganisation occurring inside the stadium.
They are frustrated that many fans are standing on chairs and obstructing the views of others. It doesn’t help that many people on the floor level aren’t sitting in their allocated seats.
While the organisation could have been better, it appears that neither the WWE nor the city of Doha itself had expected this level of interest.
Earlier in the day, WWE Champion The Miz and the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ Mark Henry arrived at the major shopping mall Villagio in Doha to do an autograph session.
They have done these types of sessions many times across the world but I doubt they have ever experienced anything like this.
People were pushing and shoving in order to meet the superstars. Children were climbing on lampposts and sitting on top of food stalls. It was chaotic. There was very little security controlling the situation but in fairness nobody really knew that it would reach this level of hysteria.
In the end the autograph session became just a public appearance.
|Randy Orton meets his fans [WWE]|
Back in the sweltering Stadium, the fans, referred to as the WWE Universe, are screaming “Let’s go Randy” and “CM Punk sucks!”
While this is Randy’s first time in Qatar, this match isn’t his first in the country, as originally scheduled.
The WWE was supposed to perform in Turkey on the Friday night but following problems with the Turkish government the show was cancelled.
So Qatar’s royal family stepped in. Demand had been so high for VIP and ringside seats for Saturday’s show that the royal family offered to fly the superstars out a day early to perform a private show.
According to Randy this was almost definitely a first.
“In the last 10 years I know we have never done a private show for anybody,” he said.
And it proved to be a fruitful detour: “I don’t know if I am supposed to talk numbers. Rumours are rumours but I heard they paid half a million dollars. It costs money for us to come over and do all of this but that’s pricey man.”
The WWE gets over 500 million viewers worldwide each week and Randy has performed in front of crowds well over 70,000 people, most recently at their biggest show of the year: Wrestlemania.
But was he nervous performing an intimate show for royalty?
“It’s not nerves, it’s more that you get amped up,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say nerves are a part of it anymore and even for a show in front of royal families and billionaires, when it all comes down to it they are here because they are fans.”
“If I know anybody it’s a WWE fan. We work with what we are given and the time that we are given and we go 100 per cent. It’s kind of how we are trained to go. No matter the show or what the venue is, we give it our all. We put on the same kind of show last night as we would have done at Wrestlemania.”
CM Punk is now getting the upper hand in the match against Orton. Battering him with uppercuts and stiff kicks. Both men are giving it their all for the fans that paid between 250 Qatari Riyals ($69) and 1,000 Qatari Riyals ($275) per ticket.
But this is their thirteenth show in a row. Doha is the final stop of a gruelling tour that has seen them travel across Europe from the United Kingdom and France to Romania. So how could the WWE superstars ensure that the fans in Doha would be getting their money’s worth?
“The human body is capable of amazing things,” Randy tells me.
“I think on the smaller scale our bodies have adapted to the rigorous schedule. We do two European tours a year but we do about four to five overseas tours a year that can be two, to two-and-half weeks long. You’ve got to find time to rest.”
“As long as your body recovers, you’re good. So long as you get five-to-six hours of sleep somewhere in the day, for a cumulative amount of time, you are fine.”
It looks like the fans might be going home unhappy as their hero continues to take a beating at the hands of CM Punk. But then out of nowhere, at the flick of a switch, Orton coils his arms around CM Punk’s neck and brings him crashing face down to the mat.
The Viper has struck with his venomous finishing manoeuvre – the RKO!
The crowd goes ballistic as Orton rolls his body over the forlorn Punk, and in unison the thousands in attendance count: “ONE … TWO … THREE!”
Orton has done it. His music again blares around the stadium as the few who were not already standing rise to their feet. He is announced as the winner and leaves the stadium knowing that his tour has finally finished.
But it is not the end of the show. After a brief intermission the action continues with a variety of different wrestling styles. It includes the high-flying expertise of the new Mexican wrestler Sin Cara, to the brutal exploits of the tough Irishman Sheamus.
With so much machismo and egotism involved in professional wrestling I ask Randy how the wrestlers could handle spending so much time with each other.
“I think we’ve all been doing it for long enough and we’re professional enough that we can tolerate each other,” he said.
“I’m married and I have a daughter but I’m with these guys more than I am with my own family. Even though some guys don’t get along, when it all comes down to it; all we know is each other. You got to stick together, you got to help each other and have each other’s back.”
The main event features the WWE champion The Miz battling the WWE’s current superhero – John Cena.
Just like with Randy, the reaction to Cena is red hot. But unlike Randy, Cena is unable to win cleanly. Instead he wins via disqualification when he is attacked with a briefcase by The Miz’s associate Alex Riley.
But it is Cena who stands tall in the Doha night sky. After dumping The Miz out of the ring, he then gives Riley his patented ‘Attitude Adjustment’ finishing manoeuvre.
Many of the thousands in attendance are delighted with the ending and leave the stadium with smiles on their faces. Some people are still disgruntled at the lack of organisation, the fact some children would go missing as they ran around the floor level, and that the ticketing system of exchanging the ticket for a wristband caused people to take nearly an hour to get into the stadium.
These are all things that will improve when the WWE returns.
Another date hasn’t been set yet but after the incredible response the fans gave the superstars, and how they felt towards the city, I would expect it to happen sooner rather than later.
And I’m pretty sure that there is one snake in the WWE that would more than happily return to the sand of the Middle East.